Cristina Pavarotti, 58, is Luciano Pavarotti's second child, and will be in Los Angeles on 24 August for the positioning her father's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the accompanying projections, including a restored video of Verdi's Messa da Requiem from 1970 conducted by Claudio Abbado with Pavarotti, Renata Scotto, Marilyn Horne, and Nicolai Ghiaurov, as well as selections from a recital that Pavarotti gave at La Scala in 1983.
We want to remind [the American public] of my father's world of classical music and opera, which are the roots without which there would be nothing else.
Is she perhaps afraid that Pavarotti pop star may overshadow Pavarotti opera star?
A little, yes, and I say this without wanting to be polemical. Already, back in the 1970s my father understood the line between pop and opera music, and that the latter had to use the media to break out of its niche. But I don't want his long, serious work in opera to be forgotten as my father did so much and with many important works. Verdi's Requiem was very important to him.
Sacred music was his world: he started singing in the Modena Choir [his hometown's church choir], as a boy soprano, following in the footsteps of his father. He said that the Requiem was his most daring debut as he first sang it at La Scala in 1967 with Karajan! He used to say that it was as if he was possessed that evening. He always kept the score of that debut, which is signed by Karajan and later by all the other conductors with whom he sang it over the next three decades: Giulini, Solti, Mehta, Barenboim, Maazel, Muti and, of course, Abbado. For the Los Angeles celebration, that score will go on display at the Grammy Museum to illustrate to my father's incredible journey that started in a small town and went on to conquer the world, encompassing genres, and rooted in that music and in a world that is being lost today.
Today, artists become stars in an instant. My father had a beautiful voice, yes, but the colour, the timbre, and the harmonics he created through study and by working alongside artists and friends where there was an exchange. That spirit of community should be recaptured: conductors and singers with highly trained techniques, who are aware that they are dealing with something from a higher plane that must be treated with respect, studying, and rehearsing together. My father breathed that air and so did we. A performance at La Scala was preceded by days of heartbreak.
On the day of a performance, he was restless, and irritable, which was unusual for him. The fear of performances always remained with him. For the last concerts he exorcised it by playing cards in the dressing room. In the early years, we daughters had to keep still and quiet.
Life at home revolved around him. He was strict, but also a friend. He was messy, even more than we were. On matters of the heart, he was our confidant, and he was never jealous of boyfriends, because he was a romantic. He believed in love, and only conceived a person as part of a couple.
After I was five years old, I would start going to see him perform. My earliest memory is La fille du régiment at La Scala, which was sung in Italian, with Mirella Freni. There were crazy journeys to follow him when, with my mother, Adua Veroni, we'd get in the car to join Dad in Hamburg, Madrid, Paris… without mobile phones and on roads full of potholes. But we always arrived. Sometimes we'd play extras on stage.
He suffered being away from home. I found letters full of emotion where he talks about that. Singers experience a lot of loneliness, so we would travel too.
He was the artist who performed the most at the Met. He debuted in 1969 and then from 1972 with the explosion of the Pavarotti phenomenon with La Fille du régiment, came La bohème, Traviata… The USA was a good fit for him with its efficient organisation meaning that programming was fixed three years in advance. That's why he sang more in America than in Europe. Besides New York, there was San Francisco where he sang a lot from 1967 onwards.
[He became friends with] many stars – Paul Newman, Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft, Jack Nicholson – and there was even talk of moving to America, but he was too attached to Modena. When we had school, my mother would go to join him by herself, staying away for up to a month, but there was an incredible support network of grandparents, aunts and uncles and great-aunts and uncles. We were an extra-large family, which kept us, including Dad, united and anchored. And if we missed him, they would explain that he was doing something important. We understood that when we saw him sign autographs at the end of a performance, which meant we wouldn't go to bed until 3am. You have to give my father credit for the immense appreciation from his admirers. We have such moving letters from the USA, including many immigrants who were grateful to have rediscovered their roots through him.
A lot [of his things] are at the Pavarotti Foundation but at home there are the more private things like correspondence, and recordings of rehearsals and studying, collected by my mother in various theatres over the years. It would be nice to put them all in order but there are performance rights problems. The Requiem, for example, was in the hands of the Abbado Foundation, and I thank his daughter Alessandra for the use of the recording.
We had a unique and joyful childhood, with difficult times because we suffered when we sensed his nervousness. I don't want to play the victim, but the reflection of celebrity shines on you and – I speak for myself – as a girl I was embarrassed by it because I aroused interest in people that was not about me. But now I'm glad as it means that he's remembered. I had a father who spent his life devoted to his intense passion, battling with sacrifice and fear, to make it enrich his soul, and the soul of so many others.
Cristina Pavarotti was talking to the La Repubblica magazine Venerdì
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.